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The city hangs suspended – a New York soundscape

Today’s sound is a field recording of a classic New York soundscape, walking through midtown Manhattan starting from 8th & 37th late at night. As well as the ubiquitous traffic noise, vehicle brakes and horns, we can hear snippets of conversation from passers-by.

City version:

The reimagined composition is built from a sound walk from 8th and 37th in Manhattan, New York, late at night. That night, when making the recording, it almost felt as if the city was so powerful and all-present that it could consume you entirely unless you resisted it.

It brought to mind a poem I’d written as part of a collection called Chartless/demagnetised, released in 2021, called “City”, which is also about the overwhelming nature of what it feels like to purely experience a city in every fibre of your being.

The field recording sits underneath a bed of ambient soundscapes, rising and falling with the rhythm of the city and of the piece so that your awareness of it changes throughout the piece. The composition features fourteen voices reading out lines from the poem, which forms the centre of the piece.

The piece is part of an informal trilogy of sounds built from field recordings of New York, the others being “The Chef” and “Eleven million tons of steam”.

Memory version:

Poem text:

Tonight the city hangs suspended,
waiting vampiric to add my story
to the countless thousands
already drummed
into its concrete steps
blood gorged on by its handrails,
drained hungrily by pavements like the first rain of a new season.

The street lights are perfect puncture wounds
through which, Saturno devorando above,
peeling back the skin,
it can trace my footsteps;

trapped in illustrious alleyways
gilded by the achievements of generations.
I need somewhere practical, like the sea
(unfussily inhaling and exhaling trade routes)
that leaves me space to write my own ending.

Following is a video composition developed for the piece, accompanied by the words to the poem:

Poem readers:

Ella Kay
Emmy Tither
Kitty Turner
Steffi Neuhuber
Cristina Marras
Ronan McQuillan
Marcelo Caneiro de Lima
Euan McAleece
Joel Graham
Jon Ogara
Simon Woods
Andy Lyon
Robert Sookhan
Bruce Davenport